Weekend Reading

And TFA wants to go into those communities after mass layoffs–where many quality veteran teachers will be displaced and many may not be rehired, teachers who fought side-by-side with the students and parents of the schools, teachers loved by the community–and offer them uncertified, poorly-trained novices many of whom have never even been to the Midwest, much less know the varied individual neighborhoods of Chicago.  It’s like TFA is kicking these communities while they are down.  “I know your school was just robbed from you, despite your loud, relentless, justified protest, but here are some uncertified, severely undertrained non-educators who won’t stick around long.  We at TFA don’t think your kids deserve properly trained teachers dedicated long-term to your community any more than you deserve the choice of democratic neighborhood schools.”

As eloquent as Oswalt’s message about Boston was, it is not particularly challenging to side with the victims of a horrible act of violence committed against civilians. Americans are united in their desire to condemn such atrocities. Many comedians, including Oswalt, also condemned the Aurora theater shooting and made an explicit point not to joke about it. None of this is to compare these different types of violence, but to offer an observation on the types of violence that are universally condemned as opposed to culturally sanctioned. The consensus formed by the majority-male comedy population is that sexual violence is not just OK to joke about, but joke about with extraordinary frequency and viciousness, where the targets of the jokes are the victims, not the perpetrators.

What is challenging, though, is speaking out against the normalization of sexual violence, the degradation of women, and the role and responsibility that men have in either perpetuating or combating rape culture. It is challenging to confront the ways that we do and do not value affirmative consent. I believe that Morril, Oswalt and the comedians who came to Tosh and/or Morril’s defense are against rape; but Oswalt chose not to use his platform to speak about it with sincerity or gravity. As a man with a platform and a gift with words, he missed an opportunity to be an ally and to support the millions of women who experience violence daily. The suffering in Boston, as horrifying as it is, is largely abstract to a nation that has, for the most part, never experienced such a thing. On the other hand, in every room Oswalt performs comedy in, there will be a rape survivor. Statistically speaking, there will be many. There will be even more if he is performing at a university. If exceptional violence illuminates our human capacity for empathy, then structural violence shows the darkness of indifference.

Listen. Being a woman is a bitch. Not only does everyone treat you like a fucking idiot all of the time, being a woman can be scary! Not scary in a big, obvious, goofy way—it’s less like a horrible slavering dog running toward your face (except for when it is like that) and more like when you can’t find that huge spider you saw on your bed earlier (if spiders also had the capacity to transform into slavering face-hungry dogs). We’re not walking around actively terrified in the middle of the afternoon, but there’s always a small awareness that we are vulnerable simply because we are women. Cavalier jokes about domestic violence and rape (jokes that target victims, not perpetrators) feed that aura of feeling unsafe and unwelcome—not just in the comedy club, but in the world.

[O]ne phrase in particular, from the interview, is worth dwelling on: “I figured it was a domestic-violence dispute.” In many times and places, a line like that has been offered as an excuse for walking away, not for helping a woman break down your neighbor’s door. How many women have died as a result? They didn’t yesterday.


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